Wake County employers are being asked to help ease the crush of rush-hour traffic as the state Department of Transportation prepares for two years of road-work disruption that will clog a heavily traveled stretch of Interstate 40 on Raleigh’s southern Beltline.
State government agency managers oversee 24,000 employees in Wake County, and they will give some of them options to avoid the worst workday traffic – including changes in daily and weekly work schedules and the chance to work from home or from other locations.
And they will temporarily restore a benefit that was taken away from hundreds of local state workers two years ago: bus passes.
DOT is winding down the first year of its #BeltlineJam rebuild on 3 miles of I-440 at the Beltline’s southeast corner, between U.S. 64/264 and the I-40 split. Traffic is expected to return to its original three full lanes by the end of December on the I-440 West (Outer Beltline) section, and by the end of January on the I-440 East (Inner Beltline) section.
Similar work is planned over the next two years for the 8.5-mile section of I-40 across South Raleigh, from the I-440 split to U.S. 64 at Cary. The first lane shifts are expected to start in January on I-40 near the Lake Wheeler Road and Gorman Street exits.
This part of the Beltline carries heavier traffic than I-440, up to 115,000 cars and trucks each day, and in some sections has four lanes in each direction. DOT has promised to keep three lanes open each way during work that is expected to cause big traffic jams – especially at rush hour.
DOT officials are asking public and private employers to help get as many as 30,000 cars and trucks off this part of I-40 each day. Employer tips are online at my40ride.com. In a memo Tuesday to state workers based in Wake County, C. Neal Alexander, the state human resources director, said state agencies would do their part.
Starting next week, DOT funds will pay for GoPasses – good for use on Triangle Transit and Capital Area Transit buses – for local state workers through August 2016. Eligible workers will be asked to pay a $25 administrative fee.
The state offered GoPasses until the end of 2012, when officials said they didn’t have money in the budget to continue covering the $176,000 expense. This time the passes will be paid for from a $12 million fund DOT set up for other measures related to the Beltline repair project, including express buses to Raleigh from outlying towns.
Toni Davis, spokeswoman for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said it is a “wonderful idea” to provide bus passes and take other measures that might help local state employees get to work on time.
“State employees are essential personnel,” Davis said. “They are working at the prisons and caring for the mentally ill. These are not people you want to be late to work.”
It’s not clear whether many state workers will get the option to shift their work schedules so they aren’t stuck in the Beltline rush every day. Some state government managers might not approve a change until they see whether the I-40 construction keeps their employees from getting to work on time.
“Each agency and individual supervisors in those agencies have to make the call about what works for them,” said David Prickett, a spokesman for the state Office of Human Resources. “If it starts to impact their ability to get the job done, they’re going to work with their employees to make another plan.”
The construction is part of a $130 million project, started in late 2013, to rebuild the southern Beltline from Cary to East Raleigh. The work involves digging out all the pavement, to a depth of 2 feet in some places, replacing it in all lanes for 11.5 miles of the Beltline, and rebuilding several interchanges. The work was necessary because of a chemical reaction that has caused the 40-year-old pavement substructure to deteriorate.
“I don’t know if anybody fully understands the impact it’s going to have, yet (on traffic),” Prickett said. “It’s going to be a work in progress. We have to play it by ear at this point.”